Gifts of Lyall Watson

[23 July 2008]

By Nikki Tranter

From the New York Times:

Lyall Watson, a maverick scientific polymath and explorer who wrote the best-selling book “Supernature” and introduced the “hundredth monkey” theory to explain the sudden and inexplicable transmission of behavior and ideas across social groups, died on June 25 in Gympie, Australia. He was 69 and lived in West Cork, Ireland.

I’ve only just begun to learn about the enchanted life of Lyall Watson with his unorthodox upbringing, his 100th Monkey theory, and the tapeworm he invited into his body and named Fred. Prior to news of his death, and subsequent fanciful obituaries, all I knew about the author was the incredible volume, Gifts of Unknown Things, which has resided among the “special books” on my desk since high school.

At first, I loved the book for its majestic cover illustration and promise of something grounded and true in the world in the way it describes the flight patterns of male flies among other natural, beguiling things. Since, the book has taught me that the little differences between human cultures are the most interesting, and has introduced me to New Age science and futurism, stuff I don’t strictly follow or even really understand, but am strangely drawn to.

I found Gifts of Unknown Things in a box of library donations. The cover caught my eye, and the first page I flipped to featured these words: “Nobody gets used to people’s coming back from the dead…” How do you pass that up? Everything Lyall Watson describes in his books, he does so with rapt urgency, like he’s looking at the whole world for the very first time.

Better late than never to get the skinny on such a fascinating writer.

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